Empowerment

Deaf Community Members Want An Interpreter At Trump’s Coronavirus Briefings

"If the deaf community is without the information they need — such as social distancing orders, stay at home orders, hygiene orders and mask wearing orders — those very people become a risk to themselves and the community they live in."

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The White House doesn’t have American Sign Language interpreters at its televised coronavirus taskforce briefings — and many who are in the Deaf community want that changed.     

The White House’s daily briefings, along with many other state-level briefings regarding the coronavirus, don’t include sign language interpreters, which some say could pose health risks to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

"During a pandemic especially, it's risky and senseless to not provide information to everyone," Deaffriendly.com CEO Melissa "echo" Greenlee, who is deaf, told CNN. "If the deaf community is without the information they need — such as social distancing orders, stay at home orders, hygiene orders and mask wearing orders — those very people become a risk to themselves and the community they live in."

In March, the National Council on Disability sent a letter to then-White House Director of Communications Stephanie Grisham urging the coronavirus task force to use an ASL interpreter during its daily press briefings. (Grisham has since left the role to serve as Melania Trump’s chief of staff.)

“These are no doubt challenging times and while some considerations might be easily overlooked, rest assured that the National Council on Disability is ready and willing to fulfill its duty to the President and Congress by highlighting the needs and concerns of the disability community as our government responds to the public health crisis at hand,” chairman Neil Romano wrote on behalf of the council. “There is no doubt that the Coronavirus brings with it significant added concerns for people with disabilities.”

The National Association of the Deaf also wrote a letter to Grisham asking for an interpreter. CNN reported that the White House did not provide a comment on whether it had received the letters or is considering using an interpreter. 

The Federal Communications Commission legally requires broadcasters, cable networks, and other distributors to offer closed captioning in both their television and web streams. But interpreters, some of whom have been present at briefings by local officials including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, say they are able to interpret the tone of whoever is speaking in ways that closed captioning can’t.

“I incorporate the mayor’s tone into my interpretation,” Jonathan Lamberton, the certified deaf interpreter for Mayor de Blasio’s press briefings said via the New York Post. “He was disgusted with a reporter’s question last week — about him micromanaging and about Dr. [Oxiris] Barbot possibly resigning [as city health commissioner] — and I showed a bit of that in my expression.”